Local Commentary

Kaye Kory’s Richmond Report

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Because I am a Democrat, each year from the middle of January to the middle of March or April (depending on the year), I sit literally beside other Democrats in the House of Delegates. We sit together as we work on legislation, including the adoption of a budget, that we all believe will improve state and local governance, and will benefit Virginians across the Commonwealth. I don’t agree with my Democratic colleagues on all policies or, as is true of a few of my caucus members, even on some basic principles; but, we avowedly share the conviction that Virginians want and need “can do” government that makes positive and constructive contributions to the well being of all our constituents.

Because I am a Democrat, each year from the middle of January to the middle of March or April (depending on the year), I sit literally beside other Democrats in the House of Delegates. We sit together as we work on legislation, including the adoption of a budget, that we all believe will improve state and local governance, and will benefit Virginians across the Commonwealth. I don’t agree with my Democratic colleagues on all policies or, as is true of a few of my caucus members, even on some basic principles; but, we avowedly share the conviction that Virginians want and need “can do” government that makes positive and constructive contributions to the well being of all our constituents.

As I know from many conversations, this conviction is not uniformly shared by my Republican counterparts literally across the aisle. My experience over the past two years is that the majority on the Republican side of the chamber – although certainly not all – have become members of the party of “can’t do” government. A deeply held and abiding opposition to government taxation is at the root of much of this view of government. The thinking, I suppose, is “starve the beast.” Without funding, governments will be forced to do less.

This point of view is evident in many ways, large and small. For example, almost 10 years ago, the Virginia Department of Taxation invested in one of the finest online state income tax filing capabilities in the country. This free service was available to all. During the 2010 session, Republicans in the house pushed through a mandate that the Department kill Virginia’s service and bring in the so-called “Free Tax Alliance,” a consortium of private sector firms (including H&R Block, Microsoft and others) who provide online tax filing software that links to the state’s existing tax systems. Free? Well, yes for filers with lower incomes, others “pay cash.” This program originated in the 90’s when the IRS caved to the lobbying of tax software providers and agreed to refrain from offering a free filing application to all taxpayers. Other states use this program, mostly because they do not have the capability to offer online filing themselves.

There are many other examples of this thinking. The Governor’s ABC privatization initiative is probably the most visible example from the past session. Less obvious is legislation passed in the House, but killed by the Senate, to provide “stealth” funding to private schools through state tax breaks for certain contributions for student scholarships.

What is most troubling about this thinking is that when Republicans are in charge and government screws up in some way, Republican partisans can retreat to the argument that government shouldn’t be doing whatever it was doing in the first place. I observed this reaction following Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s “legal opinion” issued in January that the Commonwealth’s funding for hundreds of not-for profit service organizations in Virginia – e.g. the Virginia Community Healthcare Association, an umbrella group for federally qualified health clinics at 112 sites that served 270,000 underinsured patients in 2009 – was “unconstitutional.” In response, the Governor cut off funding for hundreds of affected sites across the state, while the Health Department and other agencies redrafted agreements with providers.

Common sense surely dictates that if the result of the Cuccinelli opinion – which is advisory only and not legally binding – is enhanced legalese with no material change in services provided, then the justification for suspending legislatively approved funding is frivolous. In the worst case, there is some question whether the services agencies provided in good faith during the suspension can be paid for retroactively. To me this whole episode only plays out as it has in an environment of hostility and indifference to the services government funds for the most vulnerable among us.


Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected].